I keep singing them sad, sad songs. Always have, always will. I know that sad songs don’t speak to everyone, at least not musically, but they speak to me. Why? I can’t exactly put my finger on it. It’s something spiritual. My soul connects to sad songs in ways that it will never connect with happy ones. Of course, that doesn’t mean I dislike happy songs. They have their own charm, their own perspective on life. But still, I keep singing them sad, sad songs.
That’s one of the things I love about this Otis Redding tune. Its title tells you that it's a sad song, but there aren't many sad songs that make you move like this one. It’s upbeat. It’s hopeful. I’ve heard that this was Otis' tongue-in-cheek way of addressing the fact that everyone accused him of only singing sad songs. But when I listen to it, I wonder if he was really trying to do more. If he was telling the story of African-American music and its ability to build community and hope through the hardest of circumstances. Was he telling the story of sad songs?
That’s what sad songs are about, right? They take personal pain and put it on display - a desperate call for unity. Theologian James Cone writes in The Spirituals and the Blues, "People cannot love...until they have been up against the edge of life, experiencing the hurt and pain of existence." In this song, Otis confesses that he sings sad songs to spread his message, perhaps the same message that Cone eludes to - suffering, hurt, and pain. But Otis follows up by letting us know that it’s a story that will touch your heart and move you. Maybe, it moves you into the love.
That’s an important message to me, as someone who is also a singer of mostly sad songs. But even more so as someone who doesn’t always understand why I find comfort in the blues.
Otis and other black musicians formed a legacy that has remained an impactful part of music and I'm immensely grateful for them because they remind me what sad songs are really about. They remind me why I keep singing them sad, sad songs. Because they’re about love. They’re about community. And they’re about hope.
I hope you enjoy my humble tribute to one of the best.